Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather liked to keep track of things. Indeed, that was his one extraordinary trait: He kept track of his every expense, business or household, over five decades.
Balances, inventories, invoices and lists.
From his work: Price of ash for 1899: 8 cents for 12 inch;10 cents for 13 inch; 12 cents for 14 inch.
From his travels: 1913 Trip to Boston to see Grand Lodge: ticket to Montreal, 2.55, street car 05, ticket to Newport, 3.25. Dinner on train .60
From his 1883 ‘dating’ diary: 10 cents for shave and haircut. 15 cents ticket to dance. 5 cents for a peek through a telescope.
He kept all this information in dozens of ledgers, diaries and notebooks and he kept these booklets neatly arranged in a trunk under the window in his daughter's room.
That's how I came to have a real appreciation for the life of a 1st generation Canadian living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century.
That's how I've come to understand that my husband's great grandfather, Canadian-born, Canadian schooled Norman Nicholson, hemlock bark dealer, turkey salesman, Town Public Works Clerk, Inspector for the Transcontinental Railway and The Quebec Streams Commission, was a work-a-day sort, devoted husband to the spirited feminist-minded Margaret McLeod, doting father to three feisty and ambitious daughters Edith, Marion, Flora and one lost soul of a son, Herb.
He was the kind of ordinary man who lives a full life, with all its joys and sorrows and broken dreams, and dies, the memory of him quickly fading to black until, one day, (with any luck at all) a glimmer, as a great great grandson, flipping through the brittle pages of a photo album, points to one particular picture and asks. "Who's this 'sick - looking' dude with the white moustache and beard?" And the boy's middle aged father leans forward, squints and answers: "Oh, that's Norman Nicholson, your great great grandfather, or at least, I think it is."
"Was he a general or something, too?" the boy asks referring to the man's Masonic regalia.
"No, Norman Nicholson was just an ordinary man."
Ordinary in every possible way.
And with a soft spot for his devoted life-mate.
1911: “I don't want a concrete hall or a little birch canoe; just want a place with you by the fireside."
See? An ordinary man of conflicting passions, just like you and me, the kind of man who has but one chance to have something flattering written about him and that's at the end of his life:
From the Richmond Guardian June, 1922
The death occurred suddenly last Friday morning in Montreal of Mr. Norman Nicholson, one of the most respected citizens of this place…
And then that's it, finito, no more, except, perhaps, for an epitaph on a tombstone in a far-flung country cemetery no one ever visits.
RIP Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather.
An oh-so ordinary man, except for this one extraordinary trait, this compulsion to keep track of things, to leave a paper trail for posterity - if mostly in list form.